I am purposely not commenting on all the news regarding the announcements that LucasFilm has been sold by George Lucas to Disney AND that they are planning to make more movies. It's not that I don't have something to say, it's just that the positive and negative thoughts are still swirling around in my head and I can't settle enough to know what to think. But here's a much older question I often get.
I want to watch Star Wars with my kids. The question is, do we watch them in original order (IV, V, VI, I, II, III) or chronological order (I, II, III, IV, V, VI)?
After I've seen the question posted once again by one of my friends, I realize I have a very strong opinion on the matter with pretty good material to back it up. But before responding, it occurred to me that I should have it posted on my blog for handy reference. In fact, I thought I'd written about this before but I checked through the archives and nope.
So the question is posed from someone who would like to share the Star Wars movies with someone else who has never seen them before, frequently their young children. The Cartoon Network show, Star Wars: The Clone Wars is pretty popular at the moment, so perhaps the younglings have seen episodes of this show. Or their friends at school have mentioned the movies. Of course in my house, Star Wars is an important film and the kids have seen the movies since before they could talk.
If you are introducing someone new to this film saga, you could be understandably confused on what order the different episodes should be introduced. If you'd like to know, George Lucas' intent is for you and everyone else in the world to watch them in 'chronological' order. That is to say starting with Episode I and ending with Episode VI. However, for most of my generation, the more traditional order is the order in which they were released starting with Episode IV through VI, then Episode I through III.
Both of these options are good enough and you get the full story over a 12-hour period. There are some disadvantages though that impact the viewing experience and kills some surprise factors.
If you view the movies by order of episode, you get the story arc as papa George intended. You watch Anakin Skywalker rise to power, fall and become Darth Vader and then become redeemed through the heroic actions of his son, Luke Skywalker. The full story is really intentionally Anakin's story and you experience it with him, more or less. The issue with this method is that you get 100% plot continuity, but bad cinematic elements. The special effects in the original trilogy are not as good no matter how many times they got remade and the shift is too noticeable. The space ships are boring in some ways (excepting the Millenium Falcon), the fire-fighting is a mess and even the Lightsaber duels become like slow-motion dancing. Two major surprises in Empire Strikes Back are ruined. The one is that Darth Vader is Luke's father. The other is that the small green troublesome imp that Luke runs into on Dagobah is actually the great Jedi Master, Yoda. Additionally, another surprise in Return of the Jedi that Luke and Leia are twins is also not a surprise.
If you watch these films in chronological order, you see them as they were originally released. Hopefully, you don't wait 20 years in between watching Episode VI and Episode I. But even if you did, it wouldn't make things less weird with this option. First off, one of the changes that Lucas made in his special editions and re-releases was to have the young version of Anakin Skywalker (played by Hayden Christensen) appear as a ghost apparition at the end of Episode VI along with Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi. In the earlier versions, the ghost was older Anakin (played by Sebastian Shaw) who would have been more recently familiar to Luke as he'd just unmasked him house earlier before he died. The young Anakin is someone Luke wouldn't know. Arguably, he could have mystically recognized him "through the Force" but the audience is not privy to this. And if the young Star Wars fan-to-be is watching Episode VI before I, II and III, they will just be confused. "Who is that guy?"
What's the better alternative? Instead of watching these six films in either of these common orders, the better order is to think of the prequels as a flashback. The proper order is:
- Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope
- Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back
- Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace
- Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones
- Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith
- Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi
Take a moment to absorb this for a bit. Right after Darth Vader is revealed as Luke's father and Han Solo is captured by Boba Fett and the fate of the galaxy hangs in the balance, the narrative switches to Anakin in his youth. We also see Jabba the Hutt some more and learn Boba Fett's origins. We follow through Anakin's fall to become Vader, his children secreted away and an ending with the first Death Star being constructed as Vader and Palpatine look on.
For the climax, you go to Episode VI and the scene opens on the SECOND Death Star being constructed and Darth Vader's arrival. All the plot threads and loose ends are tied up by the end of the movie, the Ewoks dance and the galaxy is saved.
So in conclusion, for kids or friends who have not seen these movies yet your best bet is probably IV, V, I, II, III then VI. Note that this concept is not something I thought up all by lonesome. It was originally thought up and has been tested by others and posted repeatedly under different names.
Note also that some folks suggest entirely skipping Episode I as it is not popular, low on quality and most importantly does not add anything that will be missed. For the most part, characters that are first introduced in Episode I are reintroduced in Episode II. About the only relevant details to the major story arc is Anakin's relationship with his mother and her situation as an indentured servant. I'm on the fence with this change as I don't share the same hate of Phantom Menace as most folks of my generation. Ultimately, I leave that up to the reader. If you choose to skip it initially, you can always go back later after the finale. Keep in mind that there's also two separate cartoon series (one animated and one CGI) that you could watch in time as if it were all just bonus footage.
Ultimately, I believe these six films are historically important and culturally relevant fairy tales for the modern age. They should be shared with the next generation and with people who skipped them before today. For the greatest impact, the saga must be experienced in an order that makes sense, is compelling and is consistent. If you want to read more about this, here are some of the bookmarked sources I found a while back.
May the Force be with you.